Monday, February 6, 2012

Random News Generator- England, we are not covering the diamond jubilee, and we just noted how cold it is over there.

Instead, let's talk about England's much-maligned CCTV cameras, the ones that give everyone there creepy Big Brother vibes... and the newest fight over them that will do absolutely nothing to allay those vibes.

Namely, the CCTV cameras are talking.

At a number of places in London, the town council of the suburb of Camden installed and activated a number of talking cameras. When someone comes into the range of the cameras, they say in an American voice, "Stop. This is a restricted area and your photograph is being taken. It will be sent for processing if you don't leave the area now." It will do this even if you are a legitimate visitor. It will do this even if you happen to live at the building being watched. Or at least, it would. It creeped so many people out to such a degree and caused them to push back so much that Camden Council wound up turning the voices off, claiming they were never supposed to be on in the first place. According to the council, the batteries were changed in the cameras 4-5 weeks ago and in the act of replacing them, the voices accidentally got turned on.

That still, of course, leaves the question of what the voices were doing even sitting there in the software to be potentially turned on. There are two reasons for that. First, Camden Council cited safety concerns- an effort to cut down on crime- though as the Telegraph noted in an article focusing on one apartment complex in particular where the cameras were activated, that complex saw no criminal activity whatsoever over the most recent year with figures available.

Needless to say, the 1984 and Robocop references have been coming hot and heavy. Nick Pickles of the group Big Brother Watch noted, "This kind of technology may be acceptable in a police state or a science fiction film, but it is absolutely not in modern Britain... The idea that a Robocop recording will tackle antisocial behaviour and crime is as laughable as it is a total invasion of privacy. Who knew councils had the authority to take your photograph simply because you walked into a communal garden?"

Which leads to the second reason the voices were in the software: this is not the first go-around in England over talking CCTV cameras. This particular innovation dates back to a trial run in Wiltshire in 2003, and has popped up at various locations across England over the ensuing near-decade. This appears to be the first implementation of them in a residential zone, though CCTV cameras in residential areas have been implemented before, notably in 2009 at an apartment complex in Torquay. The residents there appeared to be equally angry, especially since they were assessed a rent hike to pay for it. More typically, the talking cameras are employed in commercial areas to break up what is most commonly called "antisocial behavior", which generally means littering, graffiti, loitering, vandalism and things of that ilk.

Which hasn't gone totally perfectly; in 2007, a talking camera in Middlesborough mistakenly issued a warning to a mother for littering when she hadn't actually done anything wrong. The police ended up issuing a formal apology after the incident wound up on the local news.

Perfectly or not, though, the voices are there, and while they may have gone away in Camden, at least for now, England can count on them speaking up again.

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